Thursday ≅ Year A
Saint Paul's Episcopal Church
March 24, 2005
A Mystery About Love...
for the Day
Psalm 78:14-20, 23-25
I Corinthians 11:23-26
I greet you in the name of God our
Creator, Christ our Savior, and the Holy
Spirit who sustains us and empowers us to love and to
serve them both. Let's collect ourselves in the presence
of God, and wait on God's word for us today . . .
I want to take you back in memory for
just a moment -- back to that Christmas Eve
(maybe in your childhood) when you were more excited
than you had ever been in your entire life. Think
back with me . . . back to that long-ago (or perhaps
not-so-long-ago) time . . . (Pause)
For some of us, this was the year we waited
for that long-anticipated puppy. For others, it was the
year we got a toy or game we wanted so badly we could not
contain ourselves. Perhaps for some of us it was the
Christmas Eve when we awaited the return of a long-absent
loved one, or the birth of a new baby into our families.
Or maybe it was a Christmas Eve when we
were particularly attuned to God's great gift to us in the
Christ child -- a season when our joy and anticipation
were almost palpable. We just could not contain
How different that warm and happy memory is
from our memories of this night -- of Maundy Thursday --
of Good Friday Eve. This is an eve
that -- at least in my memory -- looms dark and
foreboding, stark and forbidding.
As a middle-school-aged child -- when I
first came to some adult understanding of what actually
happened on Good Friday -- I thought
we ought to call tomorrow
The Friday we await certainly wasn't good for Jesus. And
how could the day on which we remember the killing of
God's own son be called "good" Friday? It seemed wrong to
me that Jesus had to die, even to give me a gift as great
So what do we take away from Maundy
-- this eve of Good Friday that looks to us so much like
I once knew a man who wanted to write a
book about the Saints of the church -- he said he was
going to call his book "God's
Greatest Hits: Lessons from the Lives of the Saints."
I thought of my friend when reading the
two Gospel Lessons appointed for today, because
both of these lessons surely qualify for listing among
God's greatest hits. In the lesson from John, Jesus
washes the disciples' feet, and then instructs them to do
likewise. Christ calls the disciples to move
out into the world in humility and service.
It is a call Christ makes anew to every generation in
every time and place, and it is a call we hear echoing in
the foot washing we do tonight.
In the second Gospel lesson -- the
lesson from the twenty-second chapter of Luke -- we see
Christ instituting the Lord's supper. And it is on
the Lord's Supper that I want to focus for a moment.
Here's the question I want us to reflect
upon: "What is it, exactly, we
are doing when we celebrate the Eucharist?"
What are we doing, and how does it "work"? -- If "work" is
even an appropriate word to use when speaking of the
efficacy of the Sacrament.
What is it that is going on in the
The range of understanding about what -- exactly
-- is going on in the Eucharist is enormous.
On the one hand,
we have communities of faith that rarely -- if ever --
observe the Lord's supper. When these faith communities
do have the Lord's supper, it is a
"remembrance" meal only -- they remember what Jesus
and the disciples did, but there is no understanding
that God is present in the sacrament in any particular or
On the other end of the continuum we have
faith communities that believe in transubstantiation.
Their sacramental theology proposes that -- when the
gifts of bread and wine are consecrated -- they actually
become the body and blood of Christ.
There are also myriad points in-between
these two poles. There's John Calvin's belief in what
he called the "real presence" of Christ in communion.
And then there's the position advocated by many
Episcopalians -- a position captured in the word
-- incorporating the word-components "con" meaning "with"
and "substantiation" meaning "substance" -- asserts that
the elements used in communion
are both blood and wine, both body and bread
So what is the Eucharist, and how does it
In the end, the Eucharist -- like so
many things in life that matter deeply (think of love, for
instance, or even of despair) -- is a profound mystery.
And like most authentic
mysteries, it cannot be entered into by a direct, frontal,
Some years ago I was visiting with a
clergyman-acquaintance and the conversation strayed to
systematic theology. After a brief reflection, he made an
observation that has stuck with me through the years.
Here's his observation about the study of
systematic theology, "I haven't got a lot of use for
systematic theology, because I think it vastly
overestimates the capacity of human beings to wrap their
finite minds around an infinite God."
Perhaps Eucharist is like that. Perhaps we
can't understand the Eucharist by thinking
about it. Like love, perhaps Eucharist is best
understood in the experiencing . . .
I want to tell you a story about
experiencing the Eucharist. Listen with
me; this story captures the essence of the Eucharist .
Once upon a time,
not so very long ago, right here in Winston-Salem,
there lived a man. That is,
if you could call the life this man had "living" in any
meaningful sense of that word.
Oh -- he had all the things he once
thought he wanted. He had been reasonably successful
in his work, he was married to the love of his life, he
had good friends and was active in his church. He was
healthy and vigorous and bright. No major disasters had
befallen him . . .
But somehow all of life had lost meaning
for him, and the man in our story was deeply depressed.
This was not "sadness" -- this was a
deep, aching depression. Everything was a struggle --
like running through cold molasses. Things that once
brought joy meant nothing. The man had to exhort himself
to make it from breakfast to 10AM, and then exhort himself
once again to make it from midmorning to noon.
Or -- as he expressed it to me -- "It was a
fulltime job not to kill myself!"
This man was many things, but he was not a
So he sought refuge from his depression. He visited
a psychiatrist. Nothing. He tried anti-depressants.
Nothing. He met with friends in restaurants and they sat
in silence -- him weeping and them eating. And still he
He was at his wit's end -- losing ground in
the fight to save his own life.
And then he noticed something strange . . .
Though not a member of Saint Paul's, the
man in our story was a regular attendee at the
Wednesday afternoon Eucharist. And he began to
notice that -- while at Eucharist -- he was not
Every hour of every other day he was
depressed. He was depressed as
he lay sleepless in his bed at 3AM.
He was depressed as he slogged through his workout at
the "Y". He was depressed while trying to choke
down small portions of the foods he used to love. But
he was not depressed at the Eucharist.
Our friend decided to repeat the experiment
-- he began to come to the Tuesday Eucharist as
well. Same effect: no depression. He became a
regular at Sunday morning Eucharist and it, too,
had the same effect -- no depression. And he
wondered what the heck was going on . . .
Our friend took this story to his
spiritual director -- a woman who had sat and wept
with him through the long and aching months of his sadness
-- and he told her what was going on. He expressed
his puzzlement --
of all places -- would the depression lift while at the
His spiritual director was a wise woman --
depression was no stranger to her; she had tasted it
herself. She looked at him in wonder, and then she said:
"All your life you have
hungered for someone to love you enough
to die for you.
At the Eucharist you are in the
presence of Someone
I'd be surprised if you
didn't feel better!!
And then he got it: the Eucharist --
like love -- is a mystery. In
fact, the Eucharist is a mystery about
love. Easter brings us salvation and full
communion with God in the future; the Lord's Supper (the
Eucharist) brings us a chance to rest -- here
and now -- in the presence of Jesus, in the
presence of Someone who loved us enough to die for us.
And we rest in Christ's presence not
just for rest's sake. We rest also to gather
strength to go out into the world to wash feet, to
bind up wounds, to feed the hungry, and to proclaim the
good news of Christ's love to a hurting and hungry world.
Come rest in the presence of Someone who
loves you enough to die for you. Gather strength to go
forth from here and serve.
eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and
feed on him in thy heart by faith with thanksgiving."
Eucharist Rite I, page 338
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